The last five games of every NHL season are important when your team is in playoff contention, but that may be understating it for the top eight seeds in the Western Conference. The abbreviated 2012-13 campaign has turned the entire league into a playoff seeding free-for-all, and the West is a serious logjam. Leaving aside Chicago’s 70-point monster of a season and Anaheim’s 60-point anomaly, six points separate the three-seed Canucks from the eight-seed (wait for it, wait for it) Columbus Blue Jackets. Right in the middle of it coming into Thursday’s game: the San Jose Sharks.
With a win over the Wild and a Kings loss, San Jose would have held sole possession of the fourth seed with 55 points. Lose to the Wild and forget it, Sharks fall all the way to the sixth seed by virtue of tie-breakers.
While Los Angeles didn’t assist San Jose with a loss, the Sharks did destroy the Wild to the tune of a 6-1 blowout, maintaining the fifth seed and making them a virtual lock to make the postseason this year. I don’t think it’s hyperbole at this point to say the Sharks aren’t just guaranteed to make the playoffs, they’re certain to make some serious noise as well.
You could make an argument this is one of the Sharks’ best teams, top-to-bottom, in a long time. San Jose got scoring from not only their top power play unit but both their second and third lines Thursday night. Thanks to Brent Burns’ move to forward, the usually top-heavy scoring rotation has been spread out evenly through all four lines. Joe Pavelski on the third line is a beautiful revelation: it’s not a knock on his abilities but rather a testament to the Sharks’ depth, and it paid off with a goal and an assist against the Wild.
Where do you fit Pavelski on lines already stocked with names like Joe Thorton, Burns, Martin Havlat and Patrick Marleau? Havlat was the most prolific of the four against his former team, notching two goals and an assist.
Doug Wilson gets some credit here too. Scott Gomez has been the bargain addition Wilson hoped he would be and more. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s putting pressure on opposing defenses and their goaltenders, an invaluable asset when the next unit hits the ice.
And this whole Raffi Torres trade? It’s gone swimmingly. Just ask Niklas Backstrom, who was completely hopeless to stop his wrap around goal and the entry that led to Pavelski’s goal 22 seconds later.
Andrew Bensch of Inside Hockey has been harping for about a month that this may be the best Sharks team yet, and I’m beginning to convert to his line of thinking. Even when the Sharks were making back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances they weren’t rolling out this kind of depth, the defense wasn’t nearly what it is right now and neither Evgeni Nabokov nor the Antti Niemi-of-old were playing at the level Niemi is playing this season.
While Couture wasn’t willing to concede when asked if this was the best the Sharks have played in the last couple years, he did say they were “moving in the right direction.”
That may be understating it too. They’re 11-2-1 in their last 15 games and keeping this type of play alive against the Blue Jackets, Stars, Coyotes and Kings could go a long way towards home ice advantage. With a 16-1-5 record at home, it’s hard to see many teams in the West taking San Jose down in a seven-game series if home ice belongs to the Sharks.
– Brent Burns didn’t notch a point tonight, but even the brightest stars are entitled to a day off. In case you missed it, Todd McLellan compared Burns to Colin Kaepernick in his postgame comments Monday night. Not a bad comparison, Coach.
– I didn’t get to this story because I was gone in Mexico after the last time the Sharks and Wild met, but Dany Heatley underwent shoulder surgery and is done for the season following his scrum with Marc Edouard-Vlasic.
– Although trading Ryane Clowe appeared to be the logical move for the Sharks at the trade deadline, one fan vehemently disagrees.
After the video went viral the Sharks invited this young man, Vincent Savage, to meet some of the Sharks players and coaches. From David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News:
Vincent turned out to be a critic when he met Dan Boyle.
“I can’t believe you haven’t won any Stanley Cups,” the boy told Boyle, who politely corrected him. Boyle did win the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
“But you haven’t won one with the Sharks,” Vincent responded.
In addition to the invitation from the Sharks, Vincent got a phone call and a signed jersey from Clowe.